It might have been hard to tell because of the mask requirement, but there were a lot of smiles at the 2022 San Diego Comic-Con, held July 21-24, which returned to an in-person event for the first time in three years. Though somewhat subdued, the 2022 version of the show provided a welcome opportunity for publishers and media companies to reconnect with fans and colleagues, even if it took place in the shadow of the latest Covid surge.

Despite those fears, the star power and spectacle of Comic-Con was back, from the cast of the much-anticipated blockbuster Marvel film, Wakanda Forever, aka Black Panther 2—revealed in an emotional panel held in the convention center’s Hall H—to acclaimed cartoonist Gene Luen Yang at a party to promote American Born Chinese, the upcoming Disney+ streaming series based on Yang’s award-winning graphic novel.

The show floor was crowded, but not as much as in past years, doubtless due to Covid attrition. Full vaccination or a negative test were required for entrance to the show floor, and masks were also required. Mask compliance on the show floor was generally high, in contrast to other recent events such as Anime Expo.

Despite the absence of several large publishers (Dark Horse and Skybound did not exhibit, though both have vowed to return in 2023), there was publishing news, although in lesser measures than in years past. Dynamite made a splash with the announcement they’d be bringing back two beloved Disney properties, Gargoyles and Darkwing Duck—with reprints of classic tales, and in the case of Gargoyles, all new stories by creator Greg Weisman picking up where the cult animated series ended.

DC teased a new team-up between Batman and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, while Marvel offered hints about a new comics series from writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Valerio Schiti.

Boom! Studios made headlines with a panel featuring BRZRKR, the blockbuster, Kickstarter-funded adventure comics series based around movie star Keanu Reeves and created by writer Matt Kindt, and artist Ron Garney. The big news was that a comics panel was held in Hall H—one of the very few times a comics publishing property has been featured in the 6,000 seat centerpiece of the convention center. The event was co-sponsored by Netflix, Random House, and BAIT and showcased the growing BRZRKR franchise, which includes more comics, a Netflix feature in development, plans for an anime version, prose novelization, and merchandise.

At this year’s Publishers Weekly industry panel, “Comics Survived a Pandemic, Now What?” (organized and moderated by this writer), which focused on the future of graphic novel publishing, a panel of comics retailing and publishing figures shared stories of sales growth during the pandemic and their biggest concerns about the industry’s trajectory. Viz Media director of sales Kevin Hamric noted that manga sales in 2021 made up 25% of the increase in overall adult fiction sales. “We went from selling 10-20 copies a year of some titles to 3,000 copies in a month,” he said.

Despite booming sales–comics and graphic novel sales rose 62% in 2021–concerns remains. Comics retailer Jen Haines, president of the comics retailer association ComicsPRO, is apprehensive about the possibility of her Canadian shop having to close down again due to growing Covid problems. Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds is worried about printing issues and rising paper costs–“We’ve had sales increase but it’s also way-more expensive to make any given work right now.” Reynolds is also worried about the growing retail supremacy of Amazon, and the consolidation of distribution channels.

IDW publisher Nachie Marsham also expressed concerns about price points. “We’re really trying to figure out what we can increase price on that isn't going to be too damaging.” Nevertheless the overall mood of the panelists–despite supply chain issues and the growing threats against books from organized censorship–was more than upbeat. The mix of creators, publishers, retailers and librarians assembled in the hall seemed eager to take on these challenges and more.

Sean Edgar, director of publicity and marketing at Z2 Comics, a first-time exhibitor at SDCC, noted many sell-outs of its celebrity-focused line of graphic novels inspired by music. Edgar said the response from fans was overwhelming. “To actually see fans come and discover these books and meet the creators is such a delight,” Edgar said.

While pre-SDCC buzz centered around which publishers would not attend, many houses debuted new booths. Penguin Random House showed off a large new consolidated booth space that combined PRH imprints (and artists) previously scattered around the show floor into one centralized booth that can accommodate signings, giveaways, and book sales. Abrams ComicArts added space to its booth and IDW, Top Cow, Heavy Metal and Scout Comics were among those debuting new set-ups, with IDW’s giant Godzilla cut-out attracting lots of attention.

Returning to SDCC in-person “was fantastic on so many levels,” according to Heavy Metal associate publisher Kris Longo. The house announced several projects, including the Metalverse, a slate of live-action and animated productions for film and TV, developed in the spirit of the cult-favorite 1981 Heavy Metal animated film. They also announced the launch of Metal+, an NFT-based publishing arm, and a return to monthly release for Heavy Metal magazine.

Top Cow also debuted a new booth for its 30th Anniversary. Top Cow president and COO Matt Hawkins called SDCC 2022 “a little more laid back, but in a good way. Because there was less film hoopla, there are more people walking by checking us out.”

Chris Powell, Diamond Comics Distributors chief sales and service officer, deemed it a successful show for the distributor, despite the entry of two new distribution competitors—Lunar and PRH Publisher Services—into the comics shop marketplace since the last Comic-Con was held in 2019. Diamond held a retailer luncheon event with four publishers presenting their lists. Retailer attendance at the event was down, attributable to the convention not offering free passes to retailers as it has in the past. “But everybody has been upbeat, and seems to be enjoying themselves,” Powell observed. “So I think Comic-Con is actually back.” And there’s more to come: Diamond announced they will hold their first in-person retailer summit later this year in conjunction with the Baltimore Comic-Con.

Despite snafus with new software for processing convention badges–some attendees had to wait in line an hour for their credentials–the overall chipper mood of fans and exhibitors was on display all around the convention floor. “Even if there’s a mask involved, meeting face to face is just so much more powerful,” said Z2’s Edgar. “Being able to hang out with colleagues again is such an epiphany. This show was thoroughly wonderful.”